I have a friend who, a few years ago, stopped believing in the same kind of Jesus that I do.
“In you and you and you, and in me, and sun and sky,” she would say, pointing to each with frustrated enthusiasm, conflicted that others didn’t see or experience the freedom of believing in her God, or at least in some kind of god who was, and is, and is working in everything.
She was an existentialist, perhaps, or an earth mother, although I don’t believe she’s read Kierkegaard or is a listener of Krisha Dass. Neither label would even half capture what kind of person she is, though I would like to acknowledge that this is true of most labels.
Though my preamble about what this friend is like remains unclear, it’s interesting how my life has been recently plagued (and I do use that word intentionally) with reminders of her.
A weed making its way up a crack in my building and beginning to blossom, beautifully.
A man, crazed, perhaps, sits in a coffee shop I frequent downtown, tearing up napkins and throwing them into the air. He watches them flutter to the table, but just before they land, he catches them and throws them up into the air again, continuing the lofty cycle. When they do fall to the table, he picks up the pieces and twists them into flowers, beautifully intricate and detailed blossoms, leaves, stems. They remind me of the hibiscus that grew on Miss Yamamoto’s hedge next door when I was a kid, yellow petals and centers of red and amaranth. After the flowers are made, he goes back to the shards of napkins, making them dance and twirl in the air.
I sent my friend a postcard to tell her that she’s been in my thoughts. Though, these are not the words I used, out of kindness perhaps, or maybe shame. It’s the beauty and destruction, the crazed and creation that remind me of her. How the weed, even in its beauty, is still a weed. How that man, even in his genius, is still insane.
There are other things that have reminded me of her as well.
Waiting in a Portland drizzle to take the streetcar downtown, there was a limping man, young, maybe just out of high school. He was hunched over, wearing a stained hooded sweatshirt, and a baseball cap, but the hair peeking out of the cap was unkempt and greasy. With him walked a beautiful girl of similar age. Her hair was long and wavy at the ends; it bounced the way hair bounces in shampoo commercials. She wore a smart dress that perfectly walked the delicate line between enticing and modest, sophisticated and relaxed.
“Super hot girl” is the way I described her in writer’s notebook I keep in my back pocket.
They were friends, I guessed, from their body language. The disparity between the two is what caught my eye as they walked in front of me across the street. Or I should say, my perceived disparity, the next thing written in my notebook being, “Why do I think everyone in as shallow as me?”
She slowed to match his pace, and my eyes followed them down the street, until they were too tiny to bring into focus.
‘Maybe they’re just friends,’ I thought on my subsequent ride downtown. ‘Just’ being my specific word of judgment.
‘Maybe it’s his sister,’ I pondered as I rode the streetcar home.
I noticed a hospital across from the stop near my apartment. ‘Maybe that’s the explanation’, I thought, as my mind grappled with the idea of a “super hot girl” being kind, walking slowly, enjoying the company and conversation of a dirty, hunched, unkempt, and greasy boy.
These last months have been hard. Looking for an answer . . . What the question is, I’m not so sure anymore, but this hole inside me, suggests that there’s still a question, a longing, an empty space. It seems to me that the way to fix this hole, or at least patch it, thereby lessening the madness, would include washing my clothes, standing up straight, weeding the garden. Sitting down and writing, instead of watching the madman throw bits of napkin into the air.
This is what frustrates me about my friend. That she sees, that she feels, that she knows she has a hole like I do, unanswered questions and madness and longing, but she doesn’t seem to bother with the answers. She somehow lets the questions be.
“There are flowers upon the thistles, and the thorns are covered with roses,” writes E. G. White in her book Steps to Christ, acknowledging a coexisting of sorts, between opposing forces in the world, like pain and joy. The notion seems at odds with what I’ve been taught, with the way I believe. Ugliness does not belong beside perfection.
“Be perfect, even as your Father is perfect,” Matthew records of Jesus, and though modern Christianity often sidles away from that word, that concept — perfection, it’s still there. It looms in the pages of my Bible all the same. And while many have dismissed the notion as a typo or mistranslation, I’m still left with a question. I still long for an answer.
The other day, after I’d sent my friend a postcard, I saw another boy, hunched over on the sidewalk of the busy street where I live. He was drawing chalk hearts in line, moving his way slowly in front of the shops and restaurants. Again, in Portland fashion, it was drizzling. And of course, there were passersby walking on, and smudging his hearts; but he quietly continued his mission, chalking in pink as he went.
Futile is maybe the word I would use for this work–yet another exercise in madness. I don’t remember being a child like this, and while so many things struck me about his work, the impermanence of his actions resonated deepest. I still have drawings, penciled sketches on scraps of paper, from my childhood. Honestly, I never enjoyed sketching, but the motions were fulfilling in another way–filling the void, addressing the longings. That is, when I allowed myself the frivolity of sketching at all. This boy was unencumbered by any of those limitations, which is what made me so angry at both him and my friend, how they seemed to have found their own versions of freedom.
“That is sweet as hell,” came the reply, after I texted this friend a picture of the boy. “I love you, and that is perfect,” she added, with a little redheaded girl emoji reaching up for a high five, along with two hearts that sparkled.
When he got to the end of the sidewalk, the little boy turned around and noticed the smudged chalked, the marred hearts washed away by rain and trampled on by the passers by. Then he walked purposefully back to the beginning, and began drawing his little hearts on the sidewalk again.